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News / Nation & World

Nevada becomes latest to enhance penalties for election worker intimidation after statewide exodus

By GABE STERN, Associated Press/Report for America
Published: May 30, 2023, 8:03pm

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Those who harass, intimidate or use force on election workers performing their duties in Nevada could soon face up to four years in prison under a new law signed by the Western swing state’s Republican governor on Tuesday.

The law is meant to deter attacks against those in state and local election offices who have faced increased scrutiny for doing their jobs, Democratic Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar said Tuesday. Threats and initimidation of election workers had ramped up significantly in Nevada and across the country amid falsehoods and conspiracy theories about foul play denying former President Donald Trump victory in the 2020 presidential race.

Other states have taken similar steps to better protect election officials in recent years, including Maine, Vermont, Washington, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

The bill, passed unanimously through both chambers of Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Legislature, was a core campaign promise from Aguilar, who cited an exodus of election workers across the state due in part to increased threats. The law also makes it a felony to disseminate personal information about an election worker without their consent.

“I want election workers to know that the secretary of state’s office has their back,” Aguilar said at the ceremony.

Aguilar stood alongside Republican Gov. Lombardo at the bill signing ceremony — a pair that have recently sparred over Lombardo’s proposal to require voter ID, to which Aguilar has opposed and legislative Democrats have described as a non-starter since the beginning of session.

Over half of the top election officials across Nevada’s 17 counties stepped down between the 2020 election and 2022 midterms, with several citing election threats. Many of their staff members had resigned too, along with an exodus of workers in the secretary of state’s election department leading up to the 2022 midterms. That was due both to election burnout and better opportunities elsewhere, the office said at the time.

Aguilar’s campaign vow to protect election workers and restore trust in elections became a foil to his opponent, Republican Jim Marchant, who led a nationwide coalition of secretary of state candidates seeking to discredit the electoral process. Several election deniers were defeated in Nevada statewide elections despite the split-ticket outcome. Lombardo was endorsed by former President Donald Trump but pushed back against his false claims of a stolen 2020 election, saying there was a “modicum” of fraud but not enough to sway an election.

Another bill that recently made it to Lombardo’s desk would criminalize so-called “fake electors,” or anybody who signed certificates falsely stating when a candidate wins a certain state to the National Archives — as six Nevada GOP members did in 2020. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Ray said the governor’s office declined to take a specific stance on that legislation, which includes a higher-level felony for the fake electors than the bill signed Tuesday.

Aguilar’s bill became particularly timely after a federal court acquitted a Las Vegas man of charges from threatening calls he made to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office the morning after the Jan. 6, 2020, attack on the Capital. The indictment alleged that Gjergi Luke Juncaj accused a woman who answered his calls of “stealing the election” and treason; said he hoped her children were molested; and said those working in her office were “all going to die.”

“I can tell you, it has put a chilling effect in our office as of today,” Aguilar said at a bill hearing the day after the court ruling. “Because people are afraid … They are struggling just knowing that something like this can continue to happen. And that is why this law is so needed.”

Had the state law been in place at the time of the threats, “(Juncaj) would not be a free man today,” Aguilar said on Tuesday,

The penalty would be one to four years in state prison with the possibility of probation — the same as it is to harass, intimidate or use force on voters.

The bill was amended before a state Senate vote to prohibit all state officers — including the governor, secretary of state and legislators — from campaign fundraising during the legislative session, which runs every other year from February to early June.

Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.